Thursday, February 25, 2010

Gorgeous Cathedrals from the World

Architecture: Cathedrals from the World

The Romans were known for their incredible intelligence in urban planning, building and commerce. While much of their intelligence was heavily influenced by Greece, Egypt, and the Middle East they did come up with many things on their own. One of their most famous ideas: the Roman aqueduct.

The architectural world would be at a serious loss without the Romans and their aqueducts and you could say the same thing if the the Catholics had never made their contribution of the cathedrals.

Cathedral building hit its height in the Middle Ages. The style of most cathedrals is called Gothic architecture - known during the times as 'the French style'.

Common characteristics of Gothic architecture are flying buttresses (the outside arches that helped support the massive weight of the roof, glass windows, and arched walls), pointed arch and ribbed vaults. Gothic architecture evolved from the Romanesque style architecture and continued from the 12th century to about the 16th century as a common form for buildings in Europe.

A few interesting facts about cathedrals: Always notice the stained glass - this was a serious luxury back in the time when these massive 'houses of the Lord' were being built. Having stained glass back then would be like having the very first air conditioning in the desert - only the elite had it. And those scary goblins were not meant to scare church goers. They were actually added with the very serious thought that they would scare bad spirits from the church, later as decorations and of course they helped drain the water.

I won't babble off into art history, but I encourage you to read more about Cathedral architecture because they really are the last grand standing buildings that may take their place in history as the Roman, Greek and Egyptian ruins have.














































And my favorite, favorite art/mosaic anywhere in the world: Westminster Cathedral


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

SOM wins the Beijing CDB Competition & the New FHA Temporary Rules for Buyers & Investors

Architecture: Congratulations SOM (Skidmore, Owings and Merrill) for winning the Beijing CBD Competition
Real Estate: New Changes to FHA Loans for Buyers and Investors
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Architecture: Congratulations SOM (Skidmore, Owings and Merrill) for winning the Beijing CBD Competition

The Chaoyang District Government held a international competition for the expansion of the Beijing Central Business District (CBD) and the offices of Skimore, Owings and Merrill won with ease. The stunning design, forward thinking, and innovative ideas of their expansion were just what the CBD called for.

The SOM expansion plan calls for all types of new buildings and parks. There will be the skyscrapers, new rail service, new streetcar system, and there will even be selected areas with walkable blocks to foster residential living. Oh, and lets not forget that all the roads will be bicycle friendly.

But for me the best aspect of this entire proposal is the energy saving aspect. According to SOM the new district would, "reduce energy consumption within the district by 50%, reduce water consumption by 48%, reduce landfill waste by 80%, and result in a 50% reduction in carbon emissions. Reduction in emissions from office buildings alone would equate to a reduction of 215,000 tons of CO2 per year, which is the equivalent of planting 14 million adult trees."

Here are some visuals from their proposal to help you out (these are computerized images of their plan)!















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Real Estate: New Changes to FHA Loans for Buyers and Investors

In case you haven't heard, there are new changes to FHA loans for investors and buyers. Since the housing market is having a hard time bouncing back the Federal Housing Administration is tightening up on lending rules and backing off investor 'flipping' rules in hopes of spurring the market.

 The new rules are temporary (1 year) but will have an impact on buyers and investors.
  • Better  Credit Scores — New borrowers will have to have a minimum credit score of  580 to qualify for a 3.5 percent down payment. Previously, there was no minimum score. Those with lower scores will have to make at least a 10 percent down payment.
  • Higher  Insurance Premiums — Buyers who get an FHA-insured loan will soon have to pay a higher initial insurance premium. The new premium will be 2.25 percent of  the value of total loan amount, up from 1.75 percent now. A $100,000 mortgage  would require a payment of $2,250, or $500 more. But buyers can roll the added cost into the loan amount.
  • Reduction  in Seller Concessions — Starting this summer, sellers will not be able to offer as much help to buyers to pay their closing costs. The maximum amount of assistance will drop to 3 percent of the value of the property, from the current 6 percent.
And the investors have not been forgotten either. Starting Feb. 1, the government will waive the FHA anti-flipping rule that prohibits insuring a mortgage on a home owned by the seller for less than 90 days aka investors can buy today and re-sell as quickly as possible (as long as they don't resell it for more than 20% of the value - unless the appraised value can support it).

So, if you are wanting to purchase a home - now is the time. If you are just interested in learning more email me at jallen@realtracs.com

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Global Inspirations in honor of the Winter Olympics 2010

Interior Design: Global Inspirations in honor of the Winter Olympics 2010
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I sat down on my couch tonight and flipped on the TV to see that in my everday hustle and bustle I have been missing the Olympics. Well let me rephrase... I knew they were going on but I have not had a chance to sit and watch them.

So, in honor of the Olympics (and my personal desire to at least watch some of it) I have gathered rooms from around the world. This is a very small collection of rooms and we should all remember that the entire world is invited to the Olympics. I hope you enjoy these and I will see you tomorrow!













Enjoy dinner in a Japanese kitchen (above)......




















Take a stroll through an Indian garden (above).....
















Or enjoy an afternoon in your German-inspired living room (above)............




















Start your day off right in the perfect French breakfast room (above).......





















And relax on the beach in the Caribbean (above).......

Let us use the Olympics to remind us that we are all humans and that we all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, both man and woman, young or old.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Red Flags to Look for When Buying a Home and Homes from the French West Indies

Real Estate: Red Flags to Look for When Buying a Home
Architecture: French West Indies Homes
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Real Estate: Red Flags to Look for When Buying a Home

Home inspections are absolutely essential when purchasing a home. I don't care whether you live in a sate that allows you to purchase a home without one, get one anyway. A house in your biggest expense (for most people) - buying a house without an inspection is like buying a used car without having a mechanic check it out first.

Unfortunately, home inspections can be costly. Luckily there are a few things to look for when buying a home (that you can identify yourself) to help give you some idea about what's going on with the house. For more information visit FrontDoor.com

1. Neighborhood: Ok, so it's not a physical part of the house but it IS important to the overall value of your house. Look up and down the street - is there a lot of homes for sale? What condition are the homes in around your potential house? If there is a mass exodus from the neighborhood (aka a lot of homes for sale on the street) you might want to ask what's going on in the community/neighborhood that might be causing it.

2. Condition of the house exterior: if there is moss growing on the roof, grass in the gutters, gravel in the flower beds, spot of dirt in the yard, or fallen down trees it is quite apparent then that the owners didn't bother to take very good care of the home. This will mean you will have to pay for it in the end. (Roofs are expensive to replace, etc.)

3. Foundation: Look at the slope of the yard, specifically look for drainage issues. If water runs down the yard it should show in the yard. Also look closely at the foundation of the house, if there are cracks or crumbling brick (or whatever the material is) then it needs to be repaired (usually if the cracks are bigger than 1/3 inch then it hints at major structural issues - not that they can't be fixed, but it might be costly).

4. Smell the house (inside... and out): When you walk into a house, it's ok if it smells lightly. If it's heavily scented with potpourri, then that is a red flag they are trying to cover up a smell. It may be something as simple as cigarette smoke or as bad as rotten meat that was accidentally left in the kitchen - either way, be aware.

5. Old Wiring: ok, so you aren't an electrician. But if you walk into a house and the lights flicker or the face plate's make a noise when you flip a light on (like a hissing or a buzz) that is bad or old wiring and is a huge fire hazard.

6. Fresh paint...on one wall: fresh paint in a house is great! fresh paint on just one or two walls, not so hot. That is usually a huge red flag that there was damage of some sort and it has been repaired. Repaired is great - as long as it checks out and was properly done. Mold or water damage is never fun to have to continually deal with.

7. Locked doors or blocked off rooms: if you really like a property, ask for another showing in which you can see those rooms. Sometimes homeowners may be using them as storage, but there may also be something wrong in those rooms you should know about. As a rule of thumb, if a homeowner refuses to open a room or storage space or acts weird about it - avoid the home altogether no matter how much you love it.

8. Windows: Check all the windows and make sure they work. If they are foggy they might be double pane and have water in the middle. Windows are expensive, so pay attention.

9. Open floor plans: If your home has an open floor plan, make sure to see if it was always open. If the homeowner did renovations to make the floor plan open, they may have moved load bearing walls which can in turn shift the rest (or the older) part of the home - causing more damage in the long term. Just make sure the job was done properly!

10. Bugs: if you see dead bugs everywhere, or bugs in general, there may be a pest problem. It may be easy to remove the bugs with a simple call to the exterminator or it could be as horrible as termites!

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Architecture: French West Indies Homes

 So I have a serious obsession with everything French, West Indies and Creole. The homes are stunning, the traditions are warming, and the history is more than vibrant and interesting. The French West Indian and Creole culture is a way of life, it's not something that is easily explained nor easily put into words.

Regardless, I did a little research and found some homes that are located in the (Caribbean) French West Indies. Check them out, simply gorgeous little places:








Thursday, February 18, 2010

Antique (and Unique) French Chandeliers.......Opulent Yet Tasteful

Interior Design: Antique (and Unique) French Chandeliers
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I love chandeliers. I can remember being little and seeing them at the antique stores my parents used to take me to on Sundays, after church and dinner. Hanging by the dozens, high in the air.... some lit up so bright that rainbows fell out of the sparkling glass and danced all over everything.

Ever since I always wanted to someday have a home with a gorgeous chandelier. But a chandelier, depending on the size and style, can only truly work style wise in certain rooms and homes. Until then, here are some beautiful and unexpected antique french chandeliers. (J'adore le fran├žais!!)





























Wednesday, February 17, 2010

New Trends in Kitchen Appliances......everything is digital!!

Interior Design: New Trends in Kitchen Appliances
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New trends in kitchen appliances continue to thrill me. Everything is digitalized, sleek and designer yet functional. I know many professional cooks would disagree with some of the appliances I think are really cool for 2010, but keep in mind: the average person isn't a professional cook. Plus, these are appliances that will add to the value of your home, function amazingly well for the average cook and they help keep the style to the kitchen.

1. The ATAG induction stove (below): You are probably not too familiar with this digital stove top but it's ok it's from the UK. I put this in here because we will get it here in the USA in a little while, but this is a really cool stove to keep in mind. Not only is it digital, it's made of black vitroceramic glass, including powerful 3.7 kW zone, two 3.0 kW zones and auxiliary 2.2 kW zone. Main benefits and features include modern slide controls, automatic programmable cooking options, residual heat indicators for each zone, timers, child lock, pot/pan detectors and optional stainless steel trim.

















2. The Whirlpool Combination Microwave SpeedCook Oven GH7208XRS (below):  Again, another ingenious appliance. With this combo microwave oven you can literally bake a cake, cook a steak, and steam food. This microwave is called a SpeedCook oven. It is a true convection oven, G2Max SpeedCook oven, microwave and steamer.












3. The Counter-Depth Side-By-Side Refrigerator with ave-Touch Controls (below): This is a great example of a upgraded refrigerator. This model has Wave-Touch controls (the digital display will fade once you are done setting the controls), Chill Zone Drawer (chilled air is vented directly into the drawer), glass shelves, Luxury-Glide Crispers (drawers that have controlled humidity to keep produce fresh), digital temperature controls, 9" tall water/ice dispenser (so there is plenty of room for you large containers and pitchers), Fast Ice option (produces ice extremely quickly), storage, air filters, water filters, and an alarm system that lets you know if you left the door open, the power went out, etc.



















5. The EdgeStar 18 Bottle Wine Cooler Stores Different Varietals Within One Unit (below): A wine cooler is always a great extra in a kitchen if you have the room. This particular model is an 18 bottle dual zone wine cooler with thermoelectric cooling that keeps both red and white wine at optimal temperatures in separate compartments. It's also quiet, energy efficient, digital and about $194 USD.



















These are just a few ideas of trends in kitchens for 2010. Always think of things you might like to find in a brand new kitchen. You can always add coffee makers, rice steamers, deep fryers, luxury stove hoods, and highly efficient dishwashers. Just keep in mind that people are looking for energy saving, sleek, new, and easy to use appliances that will last when redoing your kitchen.